Reviewers Behaving Badly

September 5, 2012

Song of the Day: Breakdown by Tantric

A few weeks ago, Stacey did an excellent post on reviews and good manners—the niceness epidemic and the disappearance of hard-line critics. Well, now, it’s my turn to touch on the subject of morphing manners that our society is undergoing in the virtual world.

Authors, reviewers, readers, we are all likely guilty of showering undue praise on our writing peers and favorite authors. Though I can see how too many rainbows and smiley faces might tilt scales, I think it’s safe to say, for the most part, we want to elevate, or perhaps kick start, one another’s success. We’re pretty awesome that way. For the most part. Yes, it bears repeating. For all the hearts and glitter, there will always be a peer, contest judge, reviewer, or reader who thinks you are better off scraping muck from long-forgotten sewers than writing one more single word.

And that is okay.

The problem lies when common courtesy is completely ignored.

As chance would have it, I have just the example. A recent review of one of my books was brought to my attention. And let me say, my jaw dropped at the sucker punch I’d received.

ATTENTION! I want to make it absolutely clear this post is not to lambaste this reviewer or defend myself against her evaluation of me and my writing style. She certainly has the right to relay the unspeakable torture I put her through when she read my story.

It is the way she chose to voice her opinion that I take exception to.

When writing an “honest” criticism, there is no need to call someone’s work garbage. Or write a paragraph on how cheesy the book is, comparing it to a can of cheez wiz. Or mention not how it was bad, but how bad, bad, bad, bad, bad it was. Or that the book was written entirely from words found in a thesaurus. And I’m fairly certain it might be added insult to start and end a review praising and/or suggesting another author. None of this is constructive and comes across as a personal attack. Shame, really.

I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. As authors, we accept this as fact. I’ve had a couple of tear-wrenching, thumb-sucking, fetal-position reviews. But these reviewers didn’t resort to petty ugliness. Their assessments were tactful and professional.

Unfortunately, this review has been ‘helpful’ to others, choosing to forgo reading my book, 19 others, in fact. No problem. That is their choice. Obviously they’re not tea drinkers. For me, I would never choose a book based on a review displaying such disrespect. I look at the reviews as a whole, read the blurb, take advantage of the “look inside” feature and read the first few pages before I make that decision. But, hey, that’s just me.

The problem here isn’t that the book received a one star “because 0 wasn’t an option”. It is the sheer disregard of civil social behavior. There is a difference between being honest and being rude, sometimes even abusive. I’m not alone in this. All authors have undergone such treatment. Unique to authors, we occasionally hear about manipulated rankings and sabotaged reviews, and how these responses, actions, and manners can adversely affect people. To some, it may even be considered a type of cyber-bullying.

As I have said, this post is not to snub the reviewer. Giving the benefit of doubt, there is a chance this person didn’t realize just how flippant they came across. So everyone take this as a friendly PSA. If you feel compelled enough to write a bad review, by all means be honest. But ask yourself if your scrutiny is helpful or simply mean-spirited.

Does having a bit of anonymity excuse people from practicing common courtesy? Don’t we have a responsibility to treat others with respect? Shouldn’t we be accountable for our words even in criticism? Didn’t our mammas teach us better?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.